Mike on Mike: Rhythm, Repetition, and Verse


Rap music was something I’d been exposed to since the end of fifth grade, although it was sparingly. The Slim Shady LP was released during that time, and with it Eminem broke a longstanding color barrier. His music had hit the suburbs, and “My Name Is” was instantly appealing.

I had listened to the album that summer, and it was the first CD I knew I did not want to tell my parents I listened to. I listened to it at my neighbor’s house.

My parents were and are not racist. They’re far from it. But they, like many parents, did not exactly welcome music that had been portrayed as encouraging violence, laced with profanity and sexuality, degradation of women, and gangs. I got that. And for almost three years, I was ashamed that I enjoyed rap. After all, I did not share, participate in, or want to encourage any of those things. I just loved the sound of the words. I loved the stories that those words strung together. And in the summer of 8th grade, I stopped pretending otherwise.

My friends and I all listened to rap music. Jay-Z and Eminem were particular favorites of mine at the time, and I had shown a particular knack for quickly and accurately memorizing lyrics to entire albums. My friends all know this about me. They also know that I (still) sing along to songs I hear. This has caused physical harm to some people. I try to contain myself. But I digress.

I started writing “poetry” as raps. My friend and I would have “freestyle” battles in my room. It sounds silly, and perhaps it was. But I learned to rhyme quickly, and with clever plays on words. Nothing I wrote was any good, but it was fun; and that’s important. Beyond those poems/raps, though, the genre as a whole has always been a huge part of my writing. It showed me the power and creativity of rhyme, and helped me to establish a love and appreciation for poetry, which I still love. Also, rap helped me to discover something else:

Despite what my parents had always told me (to work in silence), I actually wrote better with rap music on. It’s not something I can clearly explain, but the music and words help to free me up, and I almost emulate the artist’s “flow” in my writing. Rap helped me to craft a more naturally seamless prose rhythm, and I still use it to write when I feel as if I have lost my voice.

Also, during this time, I wrote my first poetry anthology, for a student teacher named Ms. Hondropoulos. I received a perfect grade, and felt very proud of that work. I still have those poems, and although they are elementary in their sophistication, and I was probably not graded on creativity or writing ability, that gave me confidence to continue writing

all types of poems.
Except haikus,
Which I hate.

As a reader, though, I suffered. Other than “Of Mice and Men”, I did not read much besides some classical Greek (excerpts of the Odyssey, and Antigone specifically). It turns out that some of the “higher level” books I had read in sixth grade were actually to be repeated in my curriculum.

Rather than carefully re-reading at a slower pace, I chose to not read at all, and instead began a habit I would continue forever more: showing up to class without having read, and venturing guesses based on my assumptions of how the writer should have progressed the story. This is actually more difficult than it sounds, and I do not recommend it.

Nothing significant or different would happen to me or influence my writing again, until 11th grade, under the guidance and advice of Mr. Mach…